My photo
ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


(Sa atin din may Wasteland)

(For Cesar Leyco Aguila in Australia and Isagani R. Cruz who advocates this type of multilingual writing.)

--- I grow old…I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
---T .S. Eliot, The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock

It’s garbage day today; it’s time to discard the refuse.
An inspiring mantra, I mutter, before I slip into autumn galoshes
Looking brightly at a voyeur’s walk through neighbourhood muck
Arranged immaculately into green, blue, grey, and sepia bins
Mandated to guarantee that the week’s basura and mierda ---
Prophylactics and sanitary napkins, masticated fries vomited
With the arrant fish bones, newsprint-wrapped pet faeces,
Faded pictures of grandmere leering at grandpere glancing
At some tightly dungareed wench flaunting palpable haunches
Sans underpants that was last millennium’s acceptance of taste
If not coyness or even breeding in vaulted manors of delicadeza ---
Are picked up by the City Dump Meister on an antiseptic mission
To rid these fallen-leaves-strewn paseos of accidental memories,
Recuerdos de faltas pasadas, putrid waste of body functions
And memento mori gone past their memorial usefulness.

These streets are the starkest salons of the rejected.
But I, an essential old man of windy spaces, I build caminos
Of broken dreams, the day’s fleeting temple of crumpled portraits
(A lass on a pony, a go-soon clamping down on a pell-mell skirt
Blowing up with the wind come to frolic with limbs on a swing
Of wings, (Aieeee….que bueno! Que linda! Siempre fuiste la razon
De mi existir! Las lindisimas mujeres! Sangre del amor! ),
a campesino
With the ugliest-looking bass this side of the Credit River dangling
From the rod of ages, old women in antediluvian bloomers
Cavorting with Holocaust-surviving skeletons picking grapes
From a refuge of Neapolitan vineyards. Forgotten portraits,
Forgiven hurts, nurtured loves, haunting desires:
C’est mon vocu le plus cher.)

On garbage days, I walk the boulevards of refuse absented from
Their satiated origins, pick up discarded whistles or some such
Aeolian reeds, pick up reusable stuff better known as un tesoro
Hallado de basura de otro hombre
– televisions, computers, ipods,
Stereos, stoves, microwave ovens gone kaput or obsolescent,
Bathroom douches, screws, nails, tacks, pens, mock penile-shaped
Doorstoppers, and music boxes still wound to play Volver a Sorento.
The dumpster looking majestically impregnable upon its pedestal
At the Senior’s Home is spray-painted with blood-red letters “J.C.” ---
A startling graffiti proclaiming “SAVES” (a jumble of garbage chutes
Astride the metal bin) makes one cogitate: JC SAVES. Jesus Christ
Saves. The Catcher in the Rye, indeed. El hombre propongo,
Y Dios Dispongo.
What man has built on his crumbling sandboxes
Only God can make last, like the Temple J.C. built upon some Rock
“Where the Gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

I, an old man, accept the wisdom of the dumpster: How much
Garbage, indeed, has Jesus as dumpster caught that they may
Be delivered to the proper dumpsites of vile, filth, and dirt
So that they may, as human dregs, be recomposed as food
For the worms, the essential worms? On a morning constitutional,
A cathedral is no better than the dumpster where J.C. saves
The refuse of a lost paradise as compost for a paradise regained.
I am in good company as a picker. The Good Fisherman picked
His minions from the dissolute fisherfolk and bade them fish
Where fish was not. The Great Mao gathered his rebels as firesticks
On Hunan and burnt the hills to bear the fruit for the wakened Tiger.
Did not Mahatma Gandhi-ji gather his poor to cram the railways
That rendered them supine and in penury, that they may rise
And subdue the Empire that once did not see a sunset? Shantih.

Onto my dying days, I, an old man on the streets of dung,
Shall recall to any lad or lass who would listen: Ang Kagalangalangan,
Kataastaasang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan ay siyang gumulpe
Sa mga Kastilang nagbenta sa Amerika ang Inang Bayang Pilipinas,
At tumuli sa mga dayuhang Yanqui upang ang PIlipinas ay lumayang muli.
At ang mga Bolomen? Hindi nga ba sila ang mga gerilyang pumutakte sa
Mga sakang ng Bayang Hapon nang ang Pilipinas ay muling nagwagi
Maski na hindi nakabalik on opportune time si Heneral Douglas McArthur
Upang kanyang tuparin ang kanyang pangako: I shall return?
Sila man din, itong mga kababayan ay lahat mistulang dukha, pulut sa basura
Ng tadhana, namayani, ang tuloy na ring sumugpo sa karimlan maging ito’y
Digmaan or dili kaya’y baha, martial law, GMA, at iba pa. Sa Manila ngayon,
Basura sa baba, basura sa gitna, at basura para rin sa kataastaasan. (1)

Its garbage day on Tuesdays here, Hermano, and that’s when I go picking
Refuse, myself included. I pick my decrepit body up from its hapless
Detritus, and whistle for the wind. We cannot be old men here,
Where when we reach the end of our walk, a little boy or girl awaits
With outstretched hands, running on the wings of love and glee, to give
Their grand abrazo, besito y abuelo, abuelo! The old man is back.
He did not perish along the way. So should you not, Hermano.
We need to walk through more garbage days. Because I have not seen
Any discarded book along the way, I promise you garbage days
Are good while the Word is not yet muck with the filth of waste.
Do you have garbage days in Wales? Sydney? The Outback?
In garbage days we trust.

Missisauga, Canada, October 27, 2009


(1)English translation:
Onto my dying days, I, an old man on the streets of dung,
Shall recall to any lad or lass who would listen:
The Honourable and Supreme Organization of the Country’s
Children (KKK) destroyed the Spanish colonial master
Who sold the Philippines to America and also cut the Yankee
Balls asunder so that the Philippines would again reign free.
And the Bolo Men? Did not its freedom fighters wreak havoc
On Japan’s bow-legged troops to win yet another war despite
The tardy return of General Douglas MacArthur who pledged:
I shall return? They, too, these impoverished compatriots,
Veritable recruits from the dumpster bins of Colonial Fate
And fortune, have overcome the grim disasters be they wars,
Floods, martial law, GMA (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo), etcetera.
In Manila this time around, there’s garbage below, garbage
In the center, and garbage, too, above.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009



I chose a ministry of service and applied.
Silence rejected me – a long dumbfounding silence
Of sky, of unplanted seeds, and untapped water.
Then, unscheduled it came, transcending memories;

The invitation came to serve and care for the Other –
Him Her It All waiting to be named but not owned.
Slowly Face defined my mind and heart and spirit;
A hand chucked my chin; a finger drew my lips.

The Word came, saying: “It is I have chosen You.
Arise, come and transform, as an eagle in flight
Obeys the wind; as earth follows command
Of a river winding to Love oceanic and free.
Unfold me true as Way of Life to my Future,
In the red march of toiling people bearing gifts.”

[Retreat 09-24-09, Maryridge, Tagaytay]

Rev. Fr. Francisco R. Albano, OSB, is a seminary rector at a Catholic Diocese in Isabela, Northern Philippines. In the 1970s, he served as chairman of the San Beda College English Department at Mendiola. Most of his poems --- published under a penname --- are gems of spiritual and social relevance. Committed to the amelioration of the proletariat, Fr. Albano has celebrated the courage as well as humility of militant priesthood.

The poem above is his re-commitment to the ministry which he re-invigorates during his annual retreats in Maryridge, Tagaytay. An act of Introibo ad Altare Dei, his pristine mandate is to uplift his people --- "to unfold me true as Way of Life to my the red march of toiling people bearing gifts."

His earlier poems were collected in Rituals, a book published after the Quarter Storm.

From this vantage point, he is the truest poet of the Period of Protest. His plea has matured in the indelible hope for the Filipino people to overcome the millstone of poverty in body and soul.

He is an important Philippine poet.

Friday, October 16, 2009


In the previous entry, “Taking Stock”, I intimated a pause from writing, pleading “weariness” in a verse from Ecclesiastes: “All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it.” It is sometimes called a “writer’s block”; no scribbler is exempt from it. It could be triggered by physical maladies; but, more often than not, it is almost always a psychological monkey wrench. No self-respecting writer makes an excuse of it when he runs dry creatively. Therefore, rather than foisting it as a demurrer, one can still get away with euphemisms like “taking stock,” “summing up”, “refilling the tank”, “revving up”, “harvesting ripened grain”. Much like an “inventory” at the corner store: “we’re out of stock.”

A good excuse not to shut down, of course, is the surfacing of stock not displayed before; collector’s items (rare books, manuscripts, brilliant literature, say). I am not shutting down yet.

Too precious to languish in an out-of-print collection of poems, for instance, is the late and lamented Philippine poet Alejandrino G. Hufana’s “Introduction” to my first book of poems, Narra Poems and Others (San Beda Publications, 1968, Manila).

Browsing through another “collector’s item” in my unkempt library, 7X 10 World Poetry Choices by Seven Filipino Poets, I thought that instead of me writing about the poets who have influenced my poetry --- as these poets have in the book --- I would rather have the “Philippine’s most important poet” (according to another titan in poetry, Jose Garcia Villa) trace these in his generous introduction to my debut collection. Hufana was cogent when he found poetic affinities in my poems to those of T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Francis Thompson, the Metaphysical Poets, and some Chinese poets. While I value the comparison and edified by the close reading of my poems by a decidedly superior poet, I felt that Hufana’s analysis of my poetic energies is too good a piece of literary criticism to consign to unread archives.

Alejandrino G. Hufana was the mentor-poet from my hometown whom my high school physics teacher, Dr. Cleofe Bacungan, thought the world of. She commended his work for me to study if I wanted to become a writer. She was our school paper’s adviser while I edited the La Union TAB, the Philippines' pioneer high school paper, in the late 1950s. True to my promise to this brilliant teacher, I studied Hufana --- (although I never even met him in our hometown where my physics teacher boarded in their ancestral home; I met him finally at his faculty residence at the University of the Philippines, where he taught literature and creative writing at the Humanities Department) --- and wrote about his Poro Point: an Anthology of Lives (a collection of poems) when I did my undergraduate work at the University of Santo Tomas (Manila).

Philippine Writing I (at that time the country’s most prestigious literary journal edited by the internationally-acclaimed novelist the late N.V.M. Gonzalez) published it. When the fictionist came to our campus to deliver a homecoming lecture to our arts and letters students, he asked if I was in the audience. All eyes were on the puny, 90-pound geek who stood up from the last row of the auditorium --- he said he had a cheque for me (found money for this starving student because I did not expect it) for the essay on Hufana. “Good writing,” he said. That was the last time I saw him. Both Hufana (+2003) and Gonzalez died in self-exile in California, U.S.A.

Manong Andring, I called him when I finally met him, asking for this “Introduction.” He made me stay for lunch, treating me like a prodigal brother, and said I could come back for the introductory material in two days.

Later, when he became director of the Philippine Cultural Centre Library and editor of the CCP’s Pamana (a literary journal), he continued to show interest in my work, publishing some of my poems in the Centre’s literary journal.

I owe Hufana my being a poet.

(Click on the Image to Read Pages 1 - vii)

(Bio From

Alejandrino Gurtiza Hufana , bilingual poet in English and Iloko, is also a playwright, painter, and literary critic. He was born on October 22, 1926 in San Fernando, La Union. He earned his AB in English in 1952, and MA in Comparative Literature in 1961 from the University of the Philippines, after which, on a Rockefeller fellowship for art librarianship, he obtained an MS in Library Science in 1969 from Columbia University. In 1957 he went on a special year-long study leave to the University of California at Berkeley, then returned in 1961-62 on a Rockefeller creative writing fellowship, finishing there Sieg Heil : An Epic on the Third Reich , later published (1974).

He was a professor of English at University of the Philipines where he began teaching in 1954. He was UP poet-in-residence from 1979 to 1983, Director of the UP Creative Writing Center from 1983 to 1985, Director of the CCP Library, and editor of CCP's Pamana when he emigrated to the United States in 1986.

Awards include a Republic Cultural Heritage Award for Literature in 1965, Palanca, 3 rd prize for poetry in 1976, Outstanding Ilocano Writers and Journalists Award from the National Press Club in 1980, Tawid Award for Arts and Letters from Ilocano Heritage Foundation) in 1981, Parangal from Writers Union of the Philippines in 1984, and the Gawad Pambansang Alagad in Balagtas in 1995. He passed away on August 1, 2003.

Among his works are Poro Point: an Anthology of Lives, Sickle Season / Poems of a First Decade, 1948-1958 (1959), The Wife of Lot & Other New Poems (1971), Curtain-Raisers / First Five Plays (1964), The Unicorn / A Dance Drama (in Pamana , June 1971), and Mena Pecson Crisologo and Iloko Drama (1965).


Tuesday, October 13, 2009


All things are full
of weariness;
a man cannot utter it.


Friday, October 9, 2009


(Para sa aking Ina)

Nagliparan na ang mga ibon,
at iniwanan na ang kanilang pugad,
tulad ng maagang pagdating
ng tag-lamig sa iyong buhay.

Tignan ninyo, Inang! Masdan ninyo!

Malalakas na ang mga ibong kamakaila’y
sisiw pa lang --- sila’y nagliparan na
patungong kung saang isang dipang langit
at di malamang malayong sulok
upang di na muling magbalik sa pugad
ng kalungkutan, pugad na nilisan,
isang bahay na wala nang laman.

O Inang. Pinakamamahal kong Ina!

Thursday, October 8, 2009



(Para ken ni Nanang)

Pinanawan dan ti umokda,
nagtayab da aminen;
kasla ti naapa unay nga
isasangpet iti lam-ek ken
panag-uyos ti biag.

Kitaem man, Nanang! Kitaem!

Napigsadan dagiti bil-lit;
pimmanawdan --- agtaytayab da
payen nga agturong iti saan nga
ammo nga pagkamangan ---
adayo dan, adayo unay iti
pinagtayabanda tapno saan dan
nga agsubli sadiay umok
nga pinanawanda --- balay kano
iti naled-daang nga puso,
napanawan ken ub-baw nga biag,
umok kan iti angin-nen.
Ay, Nanang! Inak nga dungdungwen!

(Translation from the Ilocano Poem)

(For my Mother)

The birds are leaving their nest;
quite like an early Winterset
arrived too soon proroguing your quest.

Look at them, Mother! Look!

Now grown strong, these agile birds
are flying to unknown havens,
far-flung places, never ever
to return to stay in a house
of gloom, a home abandoned,
a desolate nest, my mother.

O my dear mother!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009



After writing and translating “El Nido Desolado” in the four languages I am most comfortable with, I realized that one’s best medium may not necessarily be his lingua franca (in my case, English). Neither is it his “language of the blood” (the Ilocano language of my birthplace).

Rather, the language that most efficiently shapes the experience being created/re-created is that which has the most literary resources in its vocabulary. The language that is capable of creating images quickly in the mind is ordinarily a more efficient medium of communicating articulated thoughts/ideas that would otherwise remain abstract and stunted.

The primary and necessarily the most ordinary medium of poetic expression, of course, is the poem’s sound/verbal system. The more melodious and sensible the verbal equipment of the language used, the sharper its edge in translating a thought into a palpable/real plane of experience.

In this exercise, self-translation provided this writer with a limbering up that revealed intriguing discoveries. I found the Spanish version to have the most significant verbal devices that helped objectify/ subjectify the putative lament ruing abandonment. I felt the lament’s tug more profoundly in the Ilocano version. I consider the English version a tad uninspired.


(Para mi Madre)

Los pajaritos estan dejando su nido;
el invierno de su vida ha venido
tan muy temprano!

Mira! Mira! Madre mia.

Tan fuerte ahora, sus pajaros
estan volando a puertas desconocidas;
estan volando tan lejos para que
nunca jamas devolver y quedar en la casa
de corazon triste, ahora casa abandonada,
nida desolada, madre mia.

O mi madre querida!

Ilocano Translation. In the order of translation, I worked on the Ilocano version first; the language of the Northern Philippines is what I grew up with as my primary mode of communicating with my family and friends. Spanish was a language I heard in my crib, songs from my maternal grandmother and banter from my paternal grandfather. Like Latin and English, I studied Spanish further in my higher education, since it became a mandatory course once. Considered colonial, the language became an elective like French and Chinese.

While it would soon be supplanted by the national Filipino language and English as my professional tool, I retained both my Spanish and Ilocano lingua franca. From these translations, I realize that literary nuances cannot easily be translated from one language to the other. The verbal and literary energies of the various languages spinning in my ken are resources that I can use at will.

The Ilocano version needed more lines and objective correlatives (viz., “ub-baw nga biag” – empty life; “umok kan ti angin-nen” – a nest, they say, which has become the lair of the wind).


Pinanawan dan ti umokda,
nagtayab da aminen;
kasla ti naapa unay nga
isasangpet iti lam-ek ken
panag-uyos ti biag.

Kitaem man, Nanang! Kitaem!

Napigsadan dagiti bil-lit;
pimmanawdan --- agtaytayab da
payen nga agturong iti saan nga
ammo nga pagkamangan ---
adayo dan, adayo unay iti
pinagtayabanda tapno saan dan
nga agsubli sadiay umok
nga pinanawanda --- balay kano
iti naled-daang nga puso,
napanawan ken ub-baw nga biag,
umok kan iti angin-nen.

Ay, Nanang! Inak nga dungdungwen!

Filipino Translation. Ironically, I found it easier to translate from Spanish to Filipino. In fact, I realize poetic thoughts lend themselves better in Filipino than in my native Ilocano.


Nagliparan na ang mga ibon,
at iniwanan na ang kanilang pugad,
tulad ng maagang pagdating
ng tag-lamig sa iyong buhay.

Tignan ninyo, Inang! Masdan ninyo!

Malalakas na ang mga ibong kamakaila’y
sisiw pa lang --- sila’y nagliparan na
patungong kung saang isang dipang langit
at di malamang malayong sulok
upang di na muling magbalik sa pugad
ng kalungkutan, pugad na nilisan,
isang bahay na wala nang laman.

O Inang. Pinakamamahal kong Ina!

English Translation. Conciseness of expression seems more efficiently achieved in English. The translation from Spanish to English, both colonizing languages adopted by the Philippines, was surprisingly easier, and it appeared as an almost literal version of the first poem written in Spanish.


The birds are leaving their nest;
quite like an early Winterset
arrived too soon proroguing your quest.

Look at them, Mother! Look!

Now grown strong, these agile birds
are flying to unknown havens,
far-flung places, never ever
to return to stay in a house
of gloom, a home abandoned,
a desolate nest, my mother.

O my dear mother!

The critic could deal with these translations as multilingual poems and use some hermeneutics that might explain added lines or excised images. Since they are not interlingual or intralingual but monolingual translations, the multilingual critic can study how they differ or how closely translated the devices are to effect an authentic translation.

Good luck! Buena Suerte! Naimbag nga Gasatyo! Sana’y Palarinkayo!

Monday, October 5, 2009


El Nido Desolado

(Para mi Madre)

Los pajaritos estan dejando su nido;
el invierno de su vida ha venido
tan muy temprano!

Mira! Mira! Madre mia.

Tan fuerte ahora, sus pajaros
estan volando a puertas desconocidas;
estan volando tan lejos para que
nunca jamas devolver y quedar en la casa
de corazon triste, ahora casa abandonada,
nida desolada, madre mia.

O mi madre querida!

--- A. B. Casuga, Canada, 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Part 3: Evaluation of Literature --- Formal Values and Values from the Personal Approach


Formal values are those qualities which distinguish the artistic form (in this case, the literary form --- poem, short story, novel, drama, and essay) as excellent within its class or specie. These are addressed to the question of whether or not the artistic form (in its particular genre) is good or conceded as excellent in its category. Is it a good poem? Is it good fiction?

Quite a sizable portion of this phase of evaluation may already have been accomplished in Criticism. But there are certain qualities that are peculiar to each art form which cannot be universalized because they vary according to rules of composition and to the system of formal values derived by the critic from his extensive reading of literature in a certain literary form.

For instance, the appreciator-critic may consider as a formal value of lyric poetry the emotional and personal nature of its images and figures. Since this value may have pleased him while reading personal lyrics, he invariably posits this as a quality that makes good lyrics. In the course of reading other lyric poems, he would try to find out if the value he has discovered in his extensive reading is reflected. If it is not, he would most likely think less of the poem he is appreciating. It must be emphasized that the formal values vary according to different stages of literary history, and also according to the nature of the literary form.

Since the appreciator determines the formal values, he must himself be well-versed in a literary theory which provides the basis for his criteria.


This level of evaluation is considered the most significant because it is the appreciator’s critical system which is now put to use... His critical system, it must be understood, is not an arbitrary bagful of doctrine. After all, it is based on empirical premises --- analysis, criticism, universal and formal evaluation; it is based, therefore, on the facts of the art.

Art and its value become doubly meaningful to the appreciator when he is able to relate it to his life and its conduct. What is the value of the work of art as far as his lifestyle is concerned? Will he be affected by it? How?

Understandably, in spite of the fact that personal evaluation has already been based on “facts” analyzed beforehand, the subjective responses of the appreciator will be given premium. His prejudices and biases will be given full reign, but they will be prevented from going berserk by the qualifications made by the facts of the objective art form. His evaluation must be verifiable and provable in terms of these facts; in literature, in terms of the textual material.

Previous discussion has shown that the formalistic (or technical) approach necessarily precedes all these other approaches because they find their bases in the facts established by technical-empirical criticism. In the absence of these foundations, it would be foolhardy to venture into diverse critical regions while risking unintelligibility and baseless loquaciousness.

Indeed, as R. P. Blackmur admits: “The advantage of the technical approach is I think double. It readily admits other approaches and is anxious to be complemented by them. Furthermore, in a sense, it is able to incorporate the technical aspect which always exists, or what is secured by other approaches. . . The second advantage of the technical approach is a consequence of the4 first; it treats of nothing in literature except in its capacity of reduction to literary fact, which is where it resembles scholarship, only passing beyond it in that its facts are usually further into the heart of the literature than the facts of most scholarship.” (1)

Biases of appreciators may be classified under any of the following approaches:
Moral approach, Sociological, Psychological, Philosophical, Archetypal or Totemic.

Wilbur Scott in Five Approaches of Literary Criticism, does not include the philosophical approach, but includes instead the formalistic approach, which we did not list down because it is considered to be the objective approach and is not subject to the biases and prejudices of the appreciator.

When the appreciator finds a piece of literature or art valuable because he found in it a “criticism of life”, and it gave him an insight into the manner in which man as a free being copes with his present circumstances, he is using the Moral approach.

If the value of the work of art lies in the appreciator’s interest in the creative process that went into the making of the work; if the critic analyzes the “interior life” of the author through his work of art; and if the critic finds pleasure in the dramatization of psychical states in the characters of fiction, then, the appreciator is approaching the work from the angle of psychology. I.A. Richards uses this approach together with the formalistic mode. Somehow, he is able to criticize the work after being able to establish the intention of the author as reflected in his work of art.

If the appreciator finds the work valuable because he would appreciate the social milieu in which the work was produced as well as how well the author has depicted and responded to his milieu, he is studying the work from a sociological standpoint.

Scott says: “Sociological criticism (evaluation) starts with the conviction that art’s relations to society are vitally important, and that the investigation of these relationships may organize and deepen one’s aesthetic response to a work of art. Art is not created in a vacuum; it is the work not simply of a person, but of an author fixed in time and space, answering to a community of which he is an important, because articulate, part. (2)

The attitudes and practices of the times in which the work was produced may be appreciated from the work. In many cases, literary historians approach works by f. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis in this manner so they could gain an insight into the social forces that obtained during the time they wrote their works --- the impact of socio-political forces may be seen in the Lewis novels as well as the impact of the depression years in the works of Fitzgerald. The present crop of committed literature being written in the Philippines at this writing may also be approached sociologically, so that their full significance may be appreciated.

When what is valuable to the appreciator is the reflection of a philosophical system in a work of art, he may approach it philosophically. For instance, existential thought may be appreciated in its dramatized form in the novels of Albert Camus, especially in “The Stranger”, or in the play of Jean-Paul Sartre, “No Exit”. Some philosophers use literature to develop their philosophical thoughts; some use it as a springboard of speculation.

Anthropologists may want o go through a work of art to find out whether it demonstrates “some basic cultural pattern of great meaning and appeal to humanity.” Literary historians may find great value in the language of the work most especially when it is embellished with the secret codes of the mythical material. If the value of the work is conceded to be in the use of literary traditions and linguistic devices that find their roots in earlier languages, then the appreciator may be approaching the work archetypically.

Whatever approach is used by the appreciator, provided it is ultimately focused on elucidating the meaning and significance of the poem, short story, novel, drama, or essay; and provided it is based on textual facts, that approach is valid. Certainly, it should convince him that the work is truly valuable. After all, the approach is his bias.


1 R.P. Blackmur, “A Critic’s Job of a Work,” Five Approaches of Literary Critcism, Pg. 341.

2 Wilbur Scott, Five Approaches of Literary Criticism,” Pg. 123

This concludes the series on Evaluation of Literature. The three levels of Literary Appreciation --- Analysis, Criticism (Style and Technique), and Evaluation that have been serialized in this blog are part of the author's collected lectures on Literary Theory at the De La Salle University in the Philippines. They were subsequently published as part of a book ,The Aesthetics of Literature , pubished by the De La Salle Textbook Committee under the Asia Foundation Grant (Philippines, 1972). Essential revisions have been made by the author in these blog entries as part of preparations to republish the book in its revised edition.

(c) All rights reserved under current International Copyright by Albert B. Casuga, Canada., 2009.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Part 2: Evaluation of Literature: Universal Approaches

A. Universal Approaches
are those based on the commonplaces of human valuation. They find their roots in experiences that have their ultimate appeal in the essential attributes of man; i.e., his rational faculties --- intellect and will. Those are also based on values considered by human convention as the sine qua non of whatever must be considered valuable.

As residues of universal human experience, these values become common attributes in art. They actually result from the various syntheses that appreciators make when they arrive at realizations concerning qualities common to genres of art. Although these syntheses may differ from Art Period to Art Period, they may invariably meet at a residual common ground where they become applicable as common denominators to works done in different stages of artistic development.

For instance, Classical Art (as expounded by Aristotle in his Poetics) has posited that for art to be valuable, it must first have a reasonably significant content (magnitude of content according to Aristotle); (1) i.e., that it must offer intellectual, moral, and social significance so that it might be consistent to the formative function of art --- to help complete the nature of man. (See Bates in previous entry, supra). Certainly, this criterion would be applicable to all forms of literary expression (poetry, drama, novel, short story, and essay), regardless of whether they were written during the Elizabethan era or during the contemporary period.

These values have, thereupon, become the “objective standards” of valuation; although, of course, they still have to depend on how much of these are seen in the work by the prejudiced beholder and on what manner of interpretation the appreciator would give to them, thus making these values “subjective” to a certain extent. They derive objectivity, however, from their institutionalization as doctrines in certain Art Periods that have seen fit to foist them as yardsticks of what would be considered worthwhile. Modern times and the subsequent periods have not found reasonable or debatable grounds to reject the imposition of such values in the appreciator’s critical system. They remain as criteria, therefore, by reason of universal acceptability.

Among these universal values according to Andrew Long are: artistry, intellectual value, emotional value, moral or spiritual value (which includes social, political, and ethical), permanence, and universality. (2)

1. Artistry. The art work is in its plainest sense an expression of some experience in a form which emphasizes the beautiful in the selected materials that have been articulated in a certain style and technique. Articulation should result in the creation of a clear, harmonious, and integrated objective art form.

2. Intellectual Value. Every artist, it must be assumed, is stimulated by his conception of a fundamental truth when he creates his work of art. It is this truth which he objectifies so that it may reach his audience in a familiar form. When such a truth explains or clarifies an aspect of the human condition such that this leads the appreciator to a thoughtful realization of its import and impact on his outlook as a human being, the work of art is said to reflect an intellectual value. In other words, it becomes a source for the appreciator who is expected to arrive at a synthesis of what he realizes from the apprehension and comprehension of the work of art confronting him.

3. Emotional Value. Since the aesthetic attitude is ultimately satisfied by what the appreciator can feel, the work of art must be capable of exciting an emotional response. It is this emotional reaction which normally makes the work of art impressive to the beholder. When it evokes sympathetic feelings in the reader, the work of art ordinarily succeeds in instilling pleasure in the appreciator who is after all predisposed to find his enjoyment in art appreciation. A short story, for instance, could evoke strong emotional responses in the appreciator through its vivid characterization of the personae assigned to carry out the plot. The reader is likely to identify himself with those he could recognize as encouraging predicaments similar to his (reader’s).

Spurious methods of evocation like deliberate mawkishness and saccharine sentimentality would not serve the purpose of emotionalizing the story. They would only succeed in making the story ludicrous and unconvincing; whereas, restraint and sincerity in the dramatization of emotion-packed actions would most likely solicit the beholder’s emotional response.

Trivial emotions are by their very nature fleeting, therefore, effervescent. They do not as a rule excite meaningful reaction from the appreciators. Emotion must, therefore, arise from the dramatic coagulation of a situation or contextual material in the work of art, and it must have a bearing on those emotions normally considered significant by the reader; viz., compassion, love, hatred, anger, envy, lust, greed, filial concern, emotions arising from the instincts of self-preservation, self-reproduction, and the like. These are emotions (either concupiscible or irascible) that ordinarily make men move.

4. Moral or Spiritual Value. Critics like Babbitt, Eliot, and the earlier Tolstoi have measured significant literature in terms of how it would explain life and how to cope with it in the light of human limitations. In fact, the moral approach in literature is the oldest mode of appreciation. Aristotle discourses on this in his Poetics when he points out that “no man can be a good poet, unless he is a good man,” and that poetry was used by the Greek teachers to correct a pupil’s morals.

The ethical value of literature rests on its explanation or depiction of the good and moral life --- that man’s behaviour in coping with life’s appurtenances is consistent to his rational nature; i.e., he is equipped with a free will to decide on the most reasonable manner of living with himself and his neighbours. He may decide to be good or bad; but for the depiction of that situation to be ethically worthwhile, he must be truthful and faithful to the complete nature of man --- that while he is capable of goodness, he, too, can be bad. But if the dissolute and the corrupt must be depicted at all, they must be shown as afflictions which need reformation according to natural law that governs man and his actuations.

The sociological/political value is reflected in situations which describe man and his relationship with his fellow human beings. Depiction of social orders that may be meaningful to the appreciator because he subscribes to their conditions and promises, are indices for the appreciator who is after social truths in art.

T. S. Eliot justifies the use of ethical and theological norms as modes of evaluation: “Literary criticism should be completed by criticism from a definite ethical and theological standpoint. In so far as in any age there is common agreement on ethical and theological matters, so far can literary criticism be substantive. In ages like our own, in which there is no such common agreement, it is the more necessary for Christian readers to scrutinize their reading, especially the works of imagination, with explicit ethical and theological standards. The greatness of literature cannot be determined solely by literary standards; though we must remember that whether it is literature or not can be determined only by literary standards.” (3)

5. Permanence. Great literature has been known to be timeless. They have defied the imperatives of Time (that things grow old and become passé) so that they continue to be readable even in contemporary times. For instance, Shakespeare’s dramas have become classics perhaps because they celebrate the elemental verities about man and his lifestyle. True, the settings may be in another time and in another place far removed from where the reader may be, but the characters and the plots are as constant as human nature.

Shakespeare dealt with human problems which are intimately linked with man’s constant preoccupation --- the business of staying alive, the snares of human passion, the aberrations of instincts gone haywire, the lot, which have really not changed much since that time until the present. They are still the same problems plaguing man. Great literature, when read, comes up alive in any clime, at any time, in any place. In all occasions, they do not fail to regale man with their relevance.

6. Universality. Some of the best compositions in other languages come to us in translations. Although we realize that a lot is taken away from their enjoyment because they do not reach us with the original flavour and vigour of the language in which they were first written, we still marvel at the power with which they jolt us.

They may be about other people, other voices, but they do not cease to be meaningful. It is quite easy to realize that they have become the property of mankind because they depict man as a universal being, afflicted by the same pains wherever he may be; only the accidents differ --- the substance is man. Such epics as Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey”, the “Song of Roland” and others have become part of the universal fabric of literary treasures --- they have even surfaced in other forms, but with the same substance, in other countries other than their land of origin.

It is this value which often stands out when critics, using the totemic or archetypal approach, unearth universal patterns of man, as well as traces of the Jungian “universal unconscious (which shows) that civilized man preserves though unconsciously those pre-historical areas of knowledge which he articulated obliquely in myth.” (4)

It is also this value which explains why legends and myths retain their attractiveness even when the superstition around them have already withered in the vine.

In brief, these values answer the query in valuation: Is the work of art universally valuable? (Is it good literature? Painting? Sculpture? Theatre? Film? )

All of these values refer to the content of the work of art. Evaluation of the medium and its use are the main emphases of the more particular value system in Formal Evaluation.


1 Aristotle, Poetics VII.4, pg. 31. Aristotle’s Theory of Poetry and Fine Art, S.H. Butcher (trans), Dover Publications, Inc. 1951.

2 Serrano and Avena. Introduction to Literary Types, pg. 5 etseq, UST Press, Manila, 1965.

3 T. S. Eliot, “Religion and Literature”, Five Approaches of Literary Criticism, pg. 43, w. Scott (ed).

4 Wilbur Scott, Five Approaches of Literary Criticism, Pg. 248.

Next: Part 3: Evaluation of Literature --- Formal Values and Values from the Personal Approach

Thursday, October 1, 2009



What has constantly been at the end of art appreciation, in all stages of education it seems, is its highest level --- evaluation. Whatever method or approach is used in art appreciation, however valid or invalid, the effort always ends with the appreciator making an estimate of how valuable his experience in appreciation is.

While some do not arrive at a meaningful evaluation because they have no inkling about how it is done or on what it is based, quite a number arrive at one without necessarily knowing whether or not their judgment is valid or not. Still some believe they have made a judgment but are unable to explain to themselves why such a conclusion was rendered; somehow, this ignorance leaves them with a meaningless experience which obviously they have no need of. Most of them, therefore, take the path of least resistance and condemn the whole business as irrelevant to the more important business of staying alive.

And yet, evaluation is and has always been the most significant and most essential activity of the student in higher education. When he asks himself: “Of what use is this to me?”, he is actually exercising a patently human prerogative of choosing the experience that he stands in good need of. Come to think of it, the question is in fact life’s staple problem.

Small wonder then that the most abused question in a literary appreciation class is the harried teacher’s blanket study help” “What is the moral lesson of the poem/short story/novel/drama/essay, class?”

The teacher usually rounds up the day’s discussion by asking his students to probe deep into their “souls” and think of the lesson in terms of their lives. For this evaluation --- the rendering of a judgment on the worth or the value of an experience of a reality which has just been recognized, analyzed, and criticized. Valuation must be based on the students’ system of values --- something they should have as a by-product of their being alive and their being, by nature, discriminating, and rational beings.

Yet, in countless cases, what normally starts as a promising and rewarding activity ends up as a disappointing exercise in futility because teachers and students alike may have left tentative judgments to languish in the limbo of indeterminacy --- truncated experiences that more often than not degenerate into rank idiocy.

Is there anything lost, however, as a result of this abortion? The whole lot.

The appreciator who fails to evaluate his experience may have merely gone through a most vexing mechanical process of analyzing a meaning he cannot feel happy or mad about, and of criticizing an artistic dexterity whose product he cannot locate in the hierarchy of human values. So there is a meaningful experience. So there is beauty, nay sagacity, of style and technique. Of what use would awareness of these be if he would not know and feel the value of the experience after all.

In his “A Critic’s Job of a Work”, R. P. Blackmur asserts that doctrinal approaches to appreciation (which analysis and technical criticism are) should be taken only for what they are: “as guides and props, as aids to navigation.”

“What does matter is the experience, the life represented and the value discovered, and both dramatized or enacted under the banner of doctrine. All banners are wrongheaded, but they make rallying points, free the impulse to cry out, and give meaning to the cry itself simply by making it seem appropriate.” (1)

By the same token,, analysis and criticism should be taken as guides for the evaluation of the experience objectified in the art work. In the formalistic approach --- evaluation is an empirically-based appreciation of literature --- analysis and criticism would in fact be the empirical bases upon which valid judgment must be moored.

As Blackmur points out, the doctrinal approach of such scientific methods must free the impulse to “cry out”. It is analysis which defines the meaning (the impulse) that must be evaluated. Criticism investigates whether or not this meaning is factual; i.e., it is observable and verifiable in the text confronting the appreciator. Evaluation based on an illusion (or delusions as they invariably become in the hands of the imprudent) or a mnemonic irrelevancy is at best wishful thinking --- it would not serve the humanistic purpose assigned to art which is to present modes of “knowing” so that the appreciator’s awareness of things may be extended beyond the limitations of his realities.

Ultimately, of course, the significance of anything being appreciated must depend on the values it reflects, and on how keenly the appreciator realizes them.

Evaluation, therefore, is most cogent when anchored on the facts of the work of art. This, unfortunately, is what many teachers and students forget in their rush to assign all types of significance on the piece of art depending on what mode or bias they see the art’s value through.

The moral, psychological, sociological, philosophical, archetypal values are insisted upon in spite of the facts; in spite of the sheer impossibility of finding all the values argued for in the literature’s structural reality.

“Any rational approach is valid to literature and may be properly called critical which fastens at any point upon the work itself. The utility of a given approach depends partly upon the strength of the mind making it and partly upon the recognition of the limits appropriate to it. Limits may be of scope, degree, or relevance, and may be either plainly laid out by the critic himself, or may be determined by his readers. . . No critic is required to limit himself to a single approach, nor is he likely to be able to do so; facts cannot be exhibited without comment, and comment involves the generality of the mind. . . What produces the evil of stultification and the malice of controversy is the confused approach, when the limits are not seen because they tend to cancel each other out, and the driving power becomes emotional.” (2)

What are the rational approaches to evaluation?

Assuming that all such approaches recognize the independent reality in literature “as an object of contemplation and of feeling, like the reality of a picture or a cathedral, not a route of speculation,” these may be classified into: the universal, the formal, and the personal approaches.


1 R.P. Blackmur, “A Critic’s Job of a Work”, Five Approaches of Literary Criticism, Wilbur Scott (ed). Pg. 318. Collier-MacMillan, N.Y. , 1962.

2 Ibid. Pg. 322

Next: Part 2: Universal Approaches to Evaluation of Literature